St Francis: my latest icon. Some thoughts:
When you view this icon in person, the layering effect and the way the brush strokes are applied, it gives the appearance the icon is almost a wood carving, especially in the face. Wood carved icons is also a rich tradition, which I might be able to learn from. Looking at this icon with "carving in mind", I'm looking forward to painting one with that sensitivity to the robes and background.
Recently I was able to show this icon of St Francis to Virginia Barber, LP Sumedho's sister. She teaches icon painting and is an accomplished icon writer herself. Virginia had several comments about the St Francis icon. First it wasn't inscribed, which icons must be, in order for them to be icons. Usually in a Christ icon you will see the letters IC XC, and with Mary MY OP.
Virginia also pointed out that in a traditional icon, the robes will not be painted with curved lines. All the lines will be straight, with curves depicted with a series of angles. I read someplace that when you see curves being introduced it is the beginning stages of sensuality.
Third observation was the color of St Francis's robes. He is always portrayed in brown robes, as this is a symbol of his renunciation. I painted this one more black, as that is the color I've seem most Christian monks wear.
While sitting in meditation, and looking at this icon, I had the strong impression of movement. The bush strokes and color gives this impression when you see it in person. Viewing the icon with this in mind, it hit me how solid the line around the halo appeared to be. Before, I'd always noticed how the person in the icon appears to be the focus, but for some reason the halo catches my attention, as much as the face does. Maybe it's the holiness represented by the halo?
So far this is my favorite icon, and I've known from the beginning, it was because there is a tension in the face. I painted two other St Francis icons before painting this one, and this image is a mirror of those two. So I kept seeing the image from the mirrored perspective. Maybe because of that, I noticed not all the lines in the face have the same horizontal perspective. St Francis's hair slops left to right, but his eyes slope right to left... The tension this creates I think really adds to the dynamism of his face.
Then I read this quote from Kurt Vonnegut's 1987 novel Blue Beard, which I think sums it up perfectly: "...I think - it is somehow very useful, and maybe even essential, for a fine artist to have to somehow make his peace on the canvas with all the things he cannot do. That is what attracts us to serious paintings, I think: that shortfall, which we might call 'personality,' or maybe even 'pain.' "